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Americas

Progressive Democrat Bill de Blasio elected NYC mayor

© Photo: AFP

Text by Sophie PILGRIM

Latest update : 2013-11-06

Progressive and wildly popular Democrat Bill de Blasio was elected mayor of New York on Tuesday after beating Republican rival Joe Lhota with an overwhelming victory. What do New York residents expect from their first Democratic mayor in 20 years?

Popular Democrat Bill de Blasio was elected New York mayor on Tuesday after defeating Republican opponent Joe Lhota with a landslide victory. His popularity is undeniable, but what do his voters expect him to change in America's largest city?

De Blasio was a slow starter in the race to replace billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg but eventually overwhelmed the efforts of his Democrat contenders and went on to become the unstoppable favourite whose popularity trounced that of his Republican rival on Election Day.

Serving as the city’s public advocate (the elected official who liaises between the mayor and the public) since 2010, de Blasio has managed to win the trust of residents from across New York’s five boroughs and voters spanning the city’s diverse socio-economic spectrum.

A Brooklyn resident and member of a family with which many New Yorkers say they can identify (his wife Chirlane McCray is black and bisexual, his children attend publicly funded schools), de Blasio appears to be more in touch with the people of New York than his predecessors, and a refreshing alternative to Lhota, whose tough-on-crime rhetoric failed to seduce most voters.

‘Open attitude’

De Blasio’s promise to hit the city's richest earners with a tax hike of 0.5% in order to provide pre-school services for all children proved massively popular, breaking the “tax taboo” that has long seen candidates shy away from the issue.

“Raising the level for kids across the board is a wonderful move in the right direction,” Anne Lipke, a retired history teacher from Brooklyn, told FRANCE 24. Ms. Lipke was holding a bake sale outside the Park Slope Library, just a few blocks from de Blasio’s home. “De Blasio is a regular presence in the neighbourhood,” she said. “You just missed him on his way to the gym.”

It’s that easygoing neighbourly feel about de Blasio that many say has helped charm voters from Brooklyn to The Bronx. Outside a polling station in the wealthy Upper East Side of Manhattan – a good half-hour drive from Park Slope – retired resident Jamie Heim, 68, whose husband Mike described de Blasio as “too liberal for my taste,” was eager to see him win the election.

“I like his open attitude and his drive,” she said. “Raising taxes is the hardest thing to do in this country, but I feel as though he might be able to manage something, even if it’s only 0.5%. That would go a long way for pre-school kids.”

On Wall Street, construction worker Derek Milton, 42, who was helping rebuild 4 World Trade Center, said he felt de Blasio was the most down-to-earth mayor New York had ever seen. “I really believe he will make a difference,” he said. “Especially to vulnerable workers like us who Bloomberg left to rot.”

Crime concern

Mr. Milton’s colleagues were less optimistic. Most of them grumbled that de Blasio was a “Bloomberg crony” who had made false promises in order to get elected. Tom Monahan, 53, described the mayor-elect as “a freaking communist socialist” whose policies would incite a spike in violent crime. “He’ll put this city back to the 1960s,” he said.

Crime has proved a contentious issue for de Blasio, who has denounced racial profiling by police during stop-and-frisk searches, calling for what he described a “true reform” of the method, but failing to draw up a detailed plan of how he will go about it.

Even some of those who voted for him are concerned that he may jeopardise the city’s record low crime rate, which began to drop under former mayor Rudy Giuliani (1994 – 2001) and plummeted further during the Bloomberg era.

“He could be so left-leaning that he becomes too loose on security,” Ms. Heim said. “I don’t like racial profiling but I do think the city has been safer, so I hope he can find a middle way on that.”

“Brooklyn is a big, wild borough,” 24-year-old music producer Ray (who preferred not to give his surname) from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, said. “In the 70s and 80s it was out of control. We don’t want to go back to that.”

Good riddance Bloomberg?

Another concern for New Yorkers is housing, an area that many feel Bloomberg neglected. “The housing market here is terrible now,” Momo Ho, a 27-year-old family therapist from Harlem, said. “There are just so many apartments owned by very rich people in New York, and they’re not even used”.

On de Blasio’s promise of “change,” Ms. Ho said the mayor elect would probably follow a similar pattern to another famous Democrat who used the same slogan. “It’s like [President Barack] Obama’s election – everyone thought there would be this huge change but there wasn’t really. So I’m not super optimistic.”

The least optimistic of all residents are the Bloomberg devotees, who were hoping to see yet another term added to the billionaire’s record three – which he had to change parties for in order to achieve.

“This is a very sad day,” 47-year-old Carol Liu of Chinatown said after placing her vote. “Rudy Guiliani changed a lot of stuff but Bloomberg went even further. He was a great mayor. They should scrap the term limitation and let him get on with it.”

But others were delighted to see the back of him. Unionist Ramona LeCen, who was out on Monday handing out flyers for de Blasio, said that unions had been “dismissed from the table by Bloomberg” and would welcome de Blasio as somebody “who will work with us, not against us”.

“Bloomberg turned New York City into Bloomberg-ville,” she said. “This New Year’s Eve [when Bloomberg hands power over to de Blasio], I’m going to throw a party like you’ve never seen before. We will flood Central Park. This year we will have something to celebrate.”

 

Date created : 2013-11-06

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